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Political Research Exchange

Kant, Revolution, and Climate: Individual and Political Responsibility

Presenter
Zachary Vereb
University of South Florida, Department of Philosophy
Authors
Zachary Vereb
University of South Florida, Department of Philosophy

Abstract
There has been a revived interest in the relevance of Kant’s political philosophy for contemporary global issues. Because climate change is among the most pressing of such issues, a discussion of Kant’s philosophical significance for sustainability is desirable. However, since it has been suggested that a paradigm shift is needed to overcome climate change and create sustainable societies, Kant’s rejection of revolutionary action potentially limits the relevance of his philosophy for sustainability. This paper investigates the extent to which Kant’s political philosophy can provide theoretical grounds for addressing climate change despite his emphasis on reform, not revolution. Notwithstanding Kant’s misgivings of revolution, it is argued that we have good moral and political reasons—from standpoints of individual responsibility and the stability of the state—for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, protecting diversity of the planet’s biota, and re-engineering society toward sustainability. This paper is divided into three parts. In part one, I discuss Kant’s account of revolution and reform, suggesting why a Kantian might have good reasons to reject revolutionary action, even in the face of climate change. Then, in part two I examine accounts of neo-Kantians and contemporaries commenters who contest the rejection of revolution. Finally, I draw from Kant’s discussions of the common ownership of land, duties regarding nonrational nature, and the obligations of nations as moral agents in order to show how Kant’s philosophy provides theoretical grounds with implications for our global climate predicament. Individuals have duties to reduce their carbon footprints, care about nonrational nature, and be mindful of their consumption habits. States have responsibilities to transition to green technologies, protect biodiversity to ensure the stability of the climate system, and begin sustainable reformations in order to avoid collapse or revolution.
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